In Theros block, we were introduced to an interesting phenomenon – legendary creatures that aren’t creatures when they enter the battlefield. Then, in Commander 2014, we were introduced to planeswalkers as Commanders. This is forcing us to take a look at what we have traditionally considered commanders (that is, Legendary Creatures) and see if the current restrictions on what can be a commander are too strict.
If we relax the requirements for what a commander is, we could get a lot of new options to play around with. The question we have to ask is this – would that be a good thing? More options for what we can play can’t be terrible, or Wizards would have to stop printing legendary creatures. The risk becomes what happens if we make something legal as a commander that breaks the format.
Under the old ban list rules, we could just ban it as a commander. Under the new rules, it would have to be removed from the card pool altogether. Consequently, the associated (and major) risk becomes losing a card that is fun now, but would be broken as a commander and thus would be banned altogether.
Honestly, that seems like it is low enough of a potential downside that we should take some time as a community to explore our options of expanding what makes a card eligible to be a commander.
How we approach our playgroups with this idea is very important for how the idea gets received as a whole. The easiest way to turn people against you on the topic of house-ruling changes is to force them to comply. Players have to make a choice for themselves. If you build a deck around any of the cards mentioned in today’s article, I strongly suggest you have a backup Commander ready in case someone disagrees with you playing a non-Rules Committee-legal commander.
Option 1: Cards that become legendary creatures
Withengar Unbound / Elbrus, the Binding Blade are probably the most talked about and best example of a set of cards I believe should be allowed as commanders – especially since the gods have been printed. Each card starts as equipment, and if you meet a condition, then becomes a creature. The gods start as enchantments, and if you have the devotion, then become creatures. (The color identity of cards counts both sides of a card, so Withengar would be a black commander.)
There are a few ways that a card could be cast without being a legendary creature, but then create/become a legendary creature later on. You can have an ability that turns another permanent into a legendary creature. You can have flip cards like either Elbrus or the cards from Kamigawa. (The funny thing is that we already have legal commanders that do the opposite. We have commanders like the cycle represented by Rune-Tail, Kitsune Ascendant who flip to be enchantments. What would be the harm in cards like Akki Lavarunner flipping into Tok-Tok, Volcano Born?)
Let’s review the list of cards that would meet these criteria. Hopefully I’m not missing any- (Editor’s note: Sorry about the ugliness of the list below. Autocard is dumb and doesn’t understand the flip-legend name of cards *in most cases*…)
- Elbrus, the Binding Blade / Withengar Unbound
- Genju of the Realm
- Akki Lavarunner (Tok-Tok, Volcano Born)
- Budoka Gardener (Dokai, Weaver of Life)
- Budoka Pupil (Ichiga, Who Topples Oaks)
- Bushi Tenderfoot (Kenzo the Hardhearted)
- Callow Jushi (Jaraku the Interloper)
- Cunning Bandit (Azamuki, Treachery Incarnate)
- Faithful Squire (Kaiso, Memory of Loyalty)
- Hired Muscle (Scarmaker)
- Initiate of Blood (Goka the Unjust)
- Jushi Apprentice (Tomoya the Revealer)
- Kitsune Mystic (Autumn-Tail, Kitsune Sage)
- Nezumi Graverobber (Nighteyes the Desecrator)
- Nezumi Shortfang (Stabwhisker the Odious)
- Orochi Eggwatcher (Shidako, Broodmistress)
- Student of Elements (Tobita, Master of Winds)
Honestly, I don’t really see any issue with anyone playing any of these cards. I suppose Nighteyes could be troublesome, but no more than Karador or any other reanimation commanders I can think of. Genju of the Realm technically doesn’t become a creature itself, so it may be difficult to make a blanket rule that allows it; otherwise, the rule for making a commander could be matched to the rules for color identity. Simply put, s card’s commander eligibility would be having the ‘legendary creature’ type in some mode of the card.
Option 2: Nephilim
Mark Rosewater has specifically stated that he would change the Nephalim into legendary creatures if he could. We don’t have any four-color legends available as commanders, so making these a choice would just be nice – at least until we potentially get legit four-color legends in the future. (Maybe the rule could be, ‘If a creature is the only creature with its color identity it can be used as a commander’?) I’ve seen lots of people already trying this out, and it seems like one of the most accepted ‘illegal commanders’ that actually get played.
Option 3: Planeswalkers
My gut reaction to planewalkers as commanders is, ‘no….never…nuh uh….NOOOOO!!!’ However, we’ve already taken the plunge with Commander 2014 and we will be adding more planewalker-legal commanders in the form of double-sided Legendary Creature/Planeswalker cards in Magic Origins. At this point, I think we should just accept that they can be commanders, and drop the banhammer on Jace, the Mind Sculptor just to be safe – he’s honestly my biggest issue with having planeswalkers legal as commanders. (And if you disagree, than we can give him a shot and then ban him later!)
Option 4: Non-Legendary Creature
This shouldn’t be the rule in Commander. However, it is a casual format and using a non-legendary creature should be treated like using cards from Unhinged and Unglued. Ask first and make sure you are doing it for fun instead of doing it for power. (Think Ashnod’s Coupon over Gleemax.) If you are doing something for fun and laughs, most groups are going to be ok with it. Obviously for MTGO and any sanctioned events you would be out of luck, but this could be fun for people with established playgroups or who are really good at talking before matches.
I honestly think that the Rules Committee and Wizards of the Coast should highly consider at least changing the rules defining Commanders to make the first option above legal in all settings. It generates roughly fifteen new commanders at very little risk, and there is precedent to at least have the conversation based on the Kamigawa enchantment flip creatures.. The other options feel a little more off the core flavor of Commander, but if we start trying them in our local groups we could see if it’s a positive or negative change for sure.
Try bringing this up with your local playgroups and see how they feel about it. I’d love to hear the feedback on this – please leave comments below or message me (@SwordsToPlow) on twitter and let me know what you think.